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May 31, 2012

Amazing 1960s Celebrity Photos Found in a Photographer's Closet

When Dan Oppenheimer opened the door to Jack Robinson's apartment, he had no idea what he'd discover. He knew that Robinson had been a photographer in an earlier chapter of his life that he rarely spoke of.

Oppenheimer, who had been Robinson's boss at a stained-glass studio in Memphis, recalls that Robinson kept mostly to himself and had very few friends. Few people even knew he had died, which might explain why Oppenheimer found himself in this position to begin with: There was no one else to take care of the effects.

What Oppenheimer did find when he opened the doors was an immaculately tidy apartment with exactly one of everything: One plate, one bowl, one mug. Robinson only wore white shirts and jeans, Oppenheimer says, and his spare white buttons were meticulously organized by size. A few cameras were in a display case. Then he opened the closet.

"I opened this one box, and stacked down to the bottom was Elton John, Joni Mitchell, Jack Nicholson, The Who," Oppenheimer told NPR. "It became very obvious that this was no ordinary photographer."

Jack Robinson, New Orleans, early 1950s (Jack Robinson Archive)

Jack Robinson had been a commercial photographer in New York City — namely for Vogue — long enough to build an archive of some 150,000 prints of the most recognizable faces of the '50s, '60s and '70s.

It wasn't until after his death that Oppenheimer discovered this — and more. Like the fact that Robinson was gay; that he had skyrocketed from a small-town Mississippi home to the upper crust of social hipdom, carousing with Andy Warhol's milieu; that he'd had a serious alcohol problem, which, likely in tandem with other factors, led to his ultimate unraveling.

Ever since Robinson's 1997 death, Oppenheimer has been piecing together the photographer's life — cataloging and publicizing the photos, managing what is now the Jack Robinson Archive. And after more than a decade, a preview of Robinson's work can be seen in the book Jack Robinson On Show: Portraits 1958-72.

Elton John

Ralph Lauren

Melba Moore

Anthony Perkins

Nina Simone

Malcolm McDowell

Donald Sutherland

Joni Mitchell

Joni Mitchell

Clint Eastwood

James Taylor

Jack Nicholson

Tina Turner

Tom Wolfe

Leonard Cohen

The Who



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